Brooks Hays, a reporter with GIMBY, recently wrote an article that should generate some interest here, especially in context of some of the comments related to recent black-backed woodpecker articles. Below is a snip from the opening lead, which features some quotes from forest ecologist Chad Hanson. The article also includes perspectives from Richard Hutto, forest ecologist and director of the Avian Science Center at the University of Montana, and from myself. You can read the entire article here.
Last summer, talk of wildfires filled newspapers and dominated the headlines. Wildfires were “trending,” as they say.
Blazes were burning the western forests in record numbers, announced policy officials and reporters. Every news and science organization from USA Today to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was calling 2012’s fire season one of the worst on record.
“Records maintained by the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) and NASA both indicate that 2012 was an extraordinary year for wildfires in the United States,” NOAA wrote in a year-end review.
Weather Underground co-founder Jeff Masters blamed the growing threat of wildfire on “rising temperatures and earlier snow melt due to climate change” and added that “fire suppression policies which leave more timber to burn may also be a factor.”
In August, as fire season continued to rage in most of the West, National Public Radio ran a five-part series calling mega-fires the “new normal.” This new reality was attributed to excess forest growth — an overly abundant accumulation of combustible materials – all resulting from an overzealous Forest Service that put out too many fires. NPR dubbed it the “Smokey the Bear effect.”
But a growing body of empirical data suggests these superlatives might be more storytelling than science. “Those terms, ‘mega-fire’ and ‘catastrophic fire,’ are not scientific terms,” says forest ecologist Chad Hanson, executive director of the John Muir Project. “And such hyperbolic and extreme terms are not going to lead us to an objective view of the evidence.”
An objective view of the evidence, Hanson argues, reveals that the vast majority of wildlands and forests aren’t burning hotter and faster. They’re actually starved for high-intensity fires — fires Hanson says are more ecologically valuable than they’re given credit for.
As Hanson argues in his most recent study, The Myth of “Catastrophic” Wildfire, high-intensity fires are the exception in the U.S. today, not the norm. And he finds no correlation between increased fire-suppression activity and high-intensity fire. Hanson says the opposite is true: the longer a forest goes without fire, the more mature it becomes, the higher its canopy grows, and the less susceptible it is to fire damage.
Click here to read the entire article.